Fajr Film Festival 2017 roundup: A Panorama of World Cinema

TEHRAN, Apr. 29 (MNA) – Cosmopolitan Tehran was once again the center of attention from cinematic trends all across the world. 140 films from 58 countries and well over 350 foreign guests and hundreds of cinemagoers created and shared many memorable experiences at the 35th Fajr International Film Festival.

Thirty-five years have passed since its first inauguration in 1982, and the festival has made tangible progress throughout the years. In its 29th edition, Fajr International Film Festival received 90 feature films. This year, there was actually 140 films from 58 countries included in the screening program. Countries with prominent cinematic productions such as France, Spain, Germany, and United States to countries with a lesser share in the global cinematic trend such as Lithuania, Croatia and Mongolia all had at least one production to represent their cinema to the Iranian audience. From all over the world, too, Asian countries, European countries, African countries. This year’s Fajr was a treat to anyone who wanted to get a glimpse into as many countries’ cinemas as possible in one single venue and within the span of eight consecutive days. I personally watched my very first Bulgarian, Estonian, South Korean, and Icelandic films at Fajr. The experience was truly one of a kind.

The festival this year, as with the last year, was presided over by Reza Mirkarimi, Iranian filmmaker better known for his award-winning ‘Daughter’ at Moscow International Film Festival and ‘Today’ at various film festivals in Estonia, Morocco, and Spain. The festival was well-organized, with a tight schedule and many foreign guests in attendance. Despite the fact that buying tickets was only accessible to those previously approved through registration and receiving a membership card, the turnout was much higher than expected. At least, you can’t accuse Iranians of not being enthusiastic cinemagoers.   

Well over 350 guests from different groups, mainly A-list directors, screenwriters, actors, special effects gurus, producers, festival managers, film buyers, and film sellers, were invited to take part in the prestigious event at the heart of cosmopolitan Tehran, and according to Mirkarimi, directors of over 70 per cent of movies in the screening program had been present at the festival’s venue.

Italian film producer and director Uberto Pasolini was attending this year’s run as part of the jury panel for the Main Competition section, dubbed Cinema Salvation. This was his first time in Iran, and he was most impressed by the well-reputed hospitality of the Iranians. “It is my hoping that I could be able to take with me a part of your kindness and hospitality,” he said during a press conference of all Fajr juries on Thursday, April 27.

“Our task was exciting but at the same time mind-numbing. We watched some powerful movies. This doesn’t happen all the time. It hardly happens in a festival when you see that there is a movie that deserves the top prize so much. I enjoyed our differences of opinion and I liked it when we came to the same conclusion on a film. My world got bigger in Tehran,” he said.

Lech Majewski from Poland, another jury for the Main Competition section, was also enjoying his first time in Iran. Being a poet, in addition to directing and writing, Majewski grew up with classic Iranian poems. “My aunt taught Persian language at university. She used to consult me when translating Ferdowsi’s epic book ‘The Shahnameh’. This helped me a lot to learn more about Iran’s culture and myths,” he said of his early exposure to Iranian culture.  

Prominent Iranian actress Fatemeh Motamed-Aria, also on the jury panel,‎‎ maintained that the key criteria for selecting the winners in Cinema Salvation category were “culture, beauty, humanity and passion.”

With these criteria in mind, the Golden Simorgh for Best Film as well as Best Script in this category deservingly went to ‘The Home’ by 26-year-old Iranian director Asghar Yousefinejad. ‘The Home’ is the story of Sayeh who has been out of contact with her family for six years after marriage. She returns back to his father’s home only to find that he is being transferred for an autopsy. This comes as Sayeh cannot come to terms with his father’s strange will. The film is Yousefinejad’s directorial debut. ‘The Home’ also received the NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) award, which according to jury member Rolando B. Tolentino from the Philippines), is designed to elevate the position of Asian cinema. “We watched 10 Iranian titles and we awarded one. We all liked its vision and its many cinematic aspects,” he said of ‘The Home’.

The festival’s Silver Simorgh for Best Actress and Best Actor went to Margita Gosheva and Stefan Denolyubov for ‘Glory’, a Bulgarian-Greek drama written and directed by Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov about a reclusive railway worker whose life falls into the chaos of bureaucracy after he turns in millions of dollars he found on the tracks. The movie was well-paced and the acting was intense and outstanding, and the awards very well deserved.

Fajr also features a unique section called ‘Interfaith’ and the winner of this section this year was ‘Knife in the Clear Water’ by Wang Xuebo from China. The film is set in the far mountains of Ningxia’s province, depicting the life of the old Ma Zishan and his son mourning his life. The son wants to sacrifice their only bull for her 40-days disappearance ceremony, and Zishan, while not completely against the idea, begins to have doubts due to his love for the old animal. When the bull stops eating and drinking, the old man wonders if it has seen the knife in the clear water. The film has already won numerous awards at Vancouver IFF, Busan IFF, and Hawaii IFF.

Polish theologian and film producer Michal Legan, a jury member of the Interfaith section, said ‘Knife in the Clear Water’ was singled out as the winner in this category for its “exceptional human qualities, humanistic and spiritual values, such as global peace and family.” “Interfaith dialogue is of high importance to us. It is my belief that the medium of cinema can easily pull this off,” said he.

Cinema is indeed a powerful medium for introducing a country’s realities to the world. While the media and propaganda try to strip a nation of its humanity and reduce it to numbers and figures, Cinema, by contrast, has the ability to sustain and represent the human and sympathetic side of a country. When US President Donald Trump signed an executive order which bars immigrants of seven countries including Iran and Syria from entering the US, few people who were not affected by the ban felt indignation over the discriminatory treatment. But when Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi declined the invitation to be present during the Academy Awards ceremony this year due to the ban, and then his powerful Oscars acceptance speech delivered on his behalf which condemned Donald Trump's "inhumane" travel ban, many across the world started to take Iran’s side against the US administration. Asghar Farhadi was trending on Twitter, parts of his speech quoted by many American and European people who loved cinema, and were interested in watching ‘The Salesman’.

"Dividing the world into the 'us' and 'our enemies' categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression and war,” Anousheh Ansari read Farhadi’s message to everyone who was watching the ceremony that night. “These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which have themselves been victims of aggression. Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between “us” and “others,” an empathy which we need today more than ever.” Truer words have never been spoken.

Icelandic director and producer Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, who held a film directing workshop at the Talent Campus of 35th Fajr Film Festival, had the similar idea. He believed that Iran wasn’t bombed because it had cinema. “But they bombed Afghanistan and Iraq because they didn’t have cinema,” he argued. “We know you from the movies of Abbas Kiarostami and other renowned directors. They helped us to learn more about Iranian culture. That’s why some Western governments have been unable to win public support to wage war against Iran. National cinema can help build national identity, and this is crucial.”

The 35th edition of Fajr International Film Festival took place from 21 to 28 April in Tehran.

News Code 125073


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